Kyle knew Santa Claus was real despite what anyone else told him. He had known it for a long time and didn’t care how many times he had to tell the others; nothing was going change his mind. He had seen Santa Claus. Some of the kids thought he was stupid or full of shit because he didn’t do well at school or because he didn’t know some of the things they had known for years but, this time, Kyle knew he was right. He closed his eyes and tried his hardest to block out the memories of that night. The grunting in his ears, the punches and kicks, the way they passed him from one to the other to use him as they pleased. He remembered the look on Santa’s face when it was his turn. When Kyle opened his eyes he had to blink away the tears. He hated those memories and that part of him that was probably still in there somewhere but had been too weak to fight back. He was also the only fourteen year old boy he knew that hated Christmas.
The knife in the belly pocket of his hoodie was freezing to the touch but the sharp point and metal blade roused some feeling in his numb hands as he caressed it. He had smuggled it out of the kitchen at lunch time when it was his turn to wash up. Kyle knew there would be interviews and sanctions and shouting when people realised he had taken the knife but tonight he didn’t mind any of those things. He had a purpose.
Lingering in the shadows, Kyle watched his breath fog and melt away into the crisp winter evening. He stood in an alleyway with his hood pulled up to protect his small, ratty features against the cold. Kyle jogged on the spot, alternately jumping from one foot to the other in an attempt to keep warm and to subdue the nerves that grew inside him like a cancer with every passing minute. His teeth chattered together and he craved a cigarette, silently cursing himself for leaving the packet in his room where Leon could easily sneak in and steal them.
Kyle poked his head round the corner of the alleyway – the town’s main street was empty. Bare, coloured light bulbs hung limply across the pedestrianised road between shops. The pitiable decoration reflected the town; put together on a shoestring budget, paying lip service to festivity because round here all that mattered was getting enough money together to put food on the table and the heating on at night. The department store where that sick fuck Santa had been entertaining kids all day had closed half an hour ago but still no one had emerged. Kyle couldn’t believe his luck, of all the places in the world Santa had to be around Christmas and Kyle had found him so easily. He smiled slightly, his cold lips tightening in the freezing air.
Turning away, Kyle had almost given up hope when he heard the voices from across the street.
“Goodnight Santa!” Came the mocking refrain from a young blonde clerk as she waved and turned away. Kyle clocked Santa as he walked across the street, pulling up the waistband of his robin red trousers. He held his breath as Santa walked past him. He tensed in the darkness, flattening his thin, wiry frame against the wall. Santa passed without noticing him, and fumbled in his pocket for his mobile phone. Kyle waited for a heartbeat before scuttling after him into the darkened alley.
The element of surprise gave him his edge – he rammed his shoulder into Santa’s back, sending him sprawling into the gutter. Before he could pull himself up, Kyle was upon him, kicking and punching him with venom and purpose. The fury of ten long years in care – of being ignored, of being used like a piece of meat – came pouring out as he kicked the prone body of Santa lying on the ground.
When he was confident that Santa wasn’t getting up, Kyle rolled him over and took the knife out of his pocket. He calmed his breathing and looked around. The town was deathly silent, Santa had barely made a sound after hitting the concrete. His breath was escaping his mouth in short, shallow bursts. With a wounded cry Kyle raised the knife and brought it down again and again into Santa’s bulbous belly. It took Kyle a moment to realise that his knife was clean and the anger it ignited in him made him thrust down harder and harder until Santa’s suit became a sopping wet, crimson mess.
As he pulled the knife out of Santa, Kyle saw a piece of foam stick to the blade. Santa’s belly sagged as he lay dead on the floor in front of Kyle. He was no longer ruddy and rotund, he looked different – thin and frail. Frantically Kyle ripped open Santa’s suit, sending the oversized buttons rolling away into the filth and ice. He pulled out handfuls of blood-soaked foam and sponge, exposing the torn, ripped flesh beneath it. Kyle backed away from the body, unable to understand what had happened to Santa, why he was so different. He stole a look at Santa’s face; it wasn’t the ruddy, beady-eyed face of his nightmares, covered with a thick white beard. This face was gaunt and pale, with thick black stubble. Around the neck of the body hung a threadbare white beard, the last remnants of a pathetic disguise that had fooled almost nobody. Kyle picked it up and held it in his hands as he began to cry.
ILLUSTRATED BY GREG CHAPMAN